At a time when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is making headlines for its reportedly deficient healthcare system, Brian Clauss ’86 and his team at the Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic (VLSC) at John Marshall Law School are there to offer assistance to veterans who feel they are not being properly served.
Law students and staff at the VLSC, the largest facility of its kind in the country, take calls from more than 1,000 veterans every year, offering pro bono legal aid on educational and medical benefits; a few hundred of those turn into benefits appeals, said Clauss, who studied politics as well as local and regional studies at the College and earned his JD from John Marshall Law School in 1990. Although the clinic has not experienced a higher call volume from veterans in light of the recent media scrutiny of VA facilities across the nation, they have fielded calls from news outlets.
“Anytime the VA is in the news, we get calls like this. People look to us for our insight,” said Clauss, who regularly takes calls from politicians, attorneys, and other law schools, too. “We’re in a unique position as a law school legal clinic because we provide legal support and we’re also an educational institution. They want to know our read on policy because of our unique position.”
As an attorney, Clauss said he does not condone trying the VA in the media and would prefer that judgments only be made following the official investigation.
“It really overshadows and pushes out from the news the good work the VA is doing,” he said. “There’s some tremendous things being done in the VA health care system, but that story can’t be told if we’re hearing how horrible it is all the time. It’s the whole adage of a few bad apples.”
Still, he acknowledges that systems in place at the VA need to change—for instance, more streamlined services and more third party providers—to improve their support of veterans, a population that has grown and evolved in the years following September 11, 2001.
Until those changes are made, the VLSC is there to help. First organized in 2006, the clinic moved to a newly renovated location at the corner of Plymouth Court and Jackson Boulevard last fall. It is the first private space in the Midwest designed to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-sensitive.
“We try and make this as comfortable as possible,” Clauss said. “We have students who are vets and we have staff who are vets in addition to our clients who are vets. You don’t have to have PTSD to appreciate this space and how it’s calming.”
Formerly a Dollar Store, the 100-year-old three-story terra cotta building recently earned the attention of the Urban Land Institute, which granted the clinic a 2014 Vision Award for its architecture. Some current students and alumni experienced the space in April when the clinic played host to a Lake Forest College law panel and networking event.